April 30th may seem an ordinary day, one that comes five days after what is described as “the perfect date” by contestant Cheryl Frasier in Miss Congeniality, but it’s the culmination of a promise that lasts all year.
Commonly known as Día, El Día de los niños/el día de los libros (Children’s Day/Book Day) is a celebration focused on the importance of literacy for all backgrounds and cultures. The Día website describes it as “ a daily commitment to linking children and their families to diverse books, languages and cultures.”
On Día, libraries host specific programs that work toward:
- Celebrating children and connecting them toward learning,
- Nurturing development that honors a child’s home language and culture,
- Introducing families to community resources, and recognizing that culture, heritage, and language can be powerful tools.
Día is actively working toward and highlights diversity within children’s literature, which obviously, I am a HUGE fan of.
Four blogs in and I’m sure you’re starting to get a little bored of hearing me just stand on my soapbox and talk about the importance of diverse books that accurately represent the various languages and cultures of America. In honor of Día, I want to highlight specific children’s book authors that have spent their careers translating their cultures into stories, and have seen a need and the impact their stories have had.
Yuyi Morales – Making a place your home
Hispanic and Latino Americans are the second largest ethnic group in the United states but only represent 6% of employees in the children’s literature publishing industry. According to a 3,700-book analysis by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, just 216 children’s books were about the Hispanic and Latino community in 2017 and of those 116 were written by a member of that community.
Yuyi Morales grew up in Veracruz, Mexico and had hoped to teach gym after finishing college and worked as a swim coach. After meeting her husband, she visited the US with him but was only able to speak very little English. She turned to the children’s section at the library to help her learn.
She would read to her son and used the illustrations to help her when she didn’t know specific words. The illustrations often transported her back home and she began to wonder if she could make illustrations like the ones in the books she was reading. She enrolled in a class at UC Berkeley on writing for children and in 2000 was given the opportunity to illustrate a book about Cesar Chavez.
Morales has now won four gold medals from ALA’s Pura Belpré committee, an award that is given to authors and illustrators who accurately portray and celebrate Latino cultural experiences, a Caldecott Medal, and multiple Golden Kite Awards just to name a few. In an acceptance speech she said:
“Continue to make this land the welcoming diverse place of opportunities for niños and niñas to grow – and please let me be a part of it.”
Morales’ work and deep connection to literature embodies the promise of Día.
Grace Lin – Embracing who you are
Just 7% of children’s lit publishing employees identify as Asian American, and according to the CCBC 310 books were written about Asian Americans in 2017 and 274 were written by them. Children’s book author Grace Lin, who sits on the advisory committee for We Need Diverse Books, has felt the impact books can have for minority cultures in America as a child, author, illustrator, and parent.
In an interview with NBC News, Lin takes us through her personal journey on embracing her heritage that for a long time she tried to separate herself from. In an attempt to have her understand her heritage, her mother bought Chinese fairytale books and left them on a bookshelf for Lin to find. As an adult though, those stories came to life when she visited China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong and learned more about them. That’s when everything shifted for her.
When she returned, she found herself having more conversations with her parents about their background and these stories heavily influenced her first novels. She also wrote fantasy books that are influenced by Chinese myths and folktales. Through her writing she embraced her heritage and found a way to share that with children who feel similarly to the way she did.
Daniel Vandever – Understanding your history
Native American and American Indians are the least represented minority group in both children’s publishing and in children’s books. Less than 1% of the industry overall identifies as Native American with the highest percentage of representation coming in the “Book Reviewer” department of publishing. In 2017, 72 books were published about Natives and only 38 were written by them. That’s a staggering 1% of the 3,700 books collected by the CCBC.
In a historical sense, this lack of representation is a direct result of the way Native Americans were treated by European settlers in the shaping of our country. Besides the horrible genocide of Native people, Native Americans were also subjected to rigid assimilation practices that often stripped them of their culture.
Navajo author Daniel Vandever attributes his career in publishing to two major factors:
- In his formal schooling he remembers that the misrepresentation and stereotypes he saw in school made him want to hide his identity and limited how he saw himself and,
- He wanted his nephew to have a story with characters like him and to understand the value of creativity.
In his book Fall in Line, Holden! Vandever recounts what schooling was like for his father while giving an authentic look into Native culture. The school is strict and rigid and Holden is often told to “fall in line” but he can’t stop his imagination from transforming the environment around him. The story not only allows readers to better understand what assimilation was like through a modern, rather than historical, lens but also gives all children a character they can relate to who is creative, bold, and lives outside the lines. Vandever believes that
“Every kid deserves something they can identify with, something to relate to. Every kid should be able to see themselves in a book.”
He also believes that books, even children’s books, can be a starting point for conversation and a place to find understanding.
We talkin’ ‘bout BOOKS
In addition to leaving you with some amazing book recommendations, I want to leave you with a task – Something that may feel more actionable, because books can be expensive or maybe you don’t have kids and are too cool to read children’s books and only read this blog because you’re related to me and feel obligated.
I challenge you, starting today, to find time each day to read. It can be hard – there are plenty days I don’t want to read my books that I have from the library but I push myself because I want to know more. Push yourself out of your reading comfort zone, read stories from authors of a different background, share a book with your friends, and have more discussions around reading, authors and stories. Oh, and happy Día!
Hispanic and Latinx Stories
- Tito Puente: Mambo King / Rey del Mambo a bilingual book written by Monica Brown and illustrated by Rafael Lopez. A Pura Belpré Honor Book that details the life of musician Tito Puente. Tito is known as the “King of Mambo” and the book explains from how even at a young age he always had a passion for music.
- Sofia Martinez Series written by Jacqueline Jules and illustrated by Kim Smith. The series follows Sofia Martinez, a seven year old who is outgoing, a little stubborn and very mischievous. The books don’t need to be read in order and follow Sofia on all her adventures that seem to arise in being part of a big family.
- Marisol McDonald and the Clash Bash a bilingual book written by Monica Brown and illustrated by Sara Palacios. Marisol is turning eight which means she’s got to plan the perfect birthday celebration. She can’t seem to pick a perfect theme and hopes her Abuelita will be able to visit from Peru. Everything falls into place at the end and Abuelita gets to attend via video call on the computer.
- Lola’s Fandango written by Anna Witte and illustrated by Micha Archer, available in both English and Spanish. A mischievous Lola finds a pair of Flamenco shoes in her Mami’s closet one day and asks her Papi about them. He decides to teach Lola how to dance and the illustrations of the book bring both the characters and the beautiful culture surrounding the Flamenco to life.
- Lucha Libre: The Man in the Silver Mask a bilingual book by Xavier Garza. When Carlitos attends a lucha libre match in Mexico City and is enthralled with El Santo – the Man in the Silver Mask. The story reflects a graphic novel style allowing fans to follow the good versus evil battle of the luchadores while also ending with a history of the lucha libre.
Asian American Stories
- The Name Jar written and illustrated by Yangsook Choi. Unhei has just moved to America from Korea and is worried no one will be able to pronounce her name at school, and explains she will reveal her new name at the end of the week. Her classmates create a jar full of potential names she can pick from but in creating a new friendship she realizes she likes her name and helps everyone pronounce it.
- Bee-bim Bop! Written by Linda Sue Park and illustrated by Ho Baek Lee. Bee-bim bop is a traditional Korean rice dish topped with delicious meat and vegetables. The story shows a mother and child at every step of the creation process and at the end the author includes her own recipe that can be made.
- A Morning with Grandpa written by Sylvia Liu and illustrated by Christina Forshay. Mei Mei wants to join her grandpa who is practicing tai chi in the garden. She brings her own personality into the graceful movements while also teaching Gong Gong some of the yoga she has learned in school.
- Uncle Peter’s Amazing Chinese Wedding written by Lenore Look and Yumi Heo. Jenny’s favorite uncle, Peter, is getting married but she’s too worried about losing Uncle Peter to her Aunt Stella to be excited about the wedding. In following the family through getting ready, readers learn about Chinese wedding customs and get to see a new relationship form between Jenny and her new aunt.
- Jasmine Toguchi series by Debbi Michiko Florence. Jasmine Toguchi is a Japanese eight year old who is full of spunk. Each book in the series allows Jasmine to embrace a different aspect of her Japanese heritage while also tackling life as an eight year old.
Native American Stories
- Kiki’s Journey written by Kristy Orona-Ramirez and illustrated by Jonathan Warm Day. Kiki may have been born on a reservation but LA is her home, and she is often frustrated at school by her teacher who asks Kiki to share details about her family whenever they discuss Native Americans in school. During a trip to the Taos Pueblo on her spring break, Kiki feels like a tourist. The book gives readers great insight on what life is like for some modern day American Indians.
- Thunder Boy Jr written by Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Yuyi Morales. Named after his dad Big Thunder, Little Thunder wants to go by his own name, one that celebrates something cool he has done. This wonderful story focuses on a beautiful relationship between father and son and the search for finding your own identity.
- Bowwow Powwow written by Brenda J. Child, illustrated by Jonathan Thunder, and translated by Gordon Jourdain in Ojibwe. Legit hot off the presses because the book is officially released tomorrow! Windy Girl has a vivid imagination from the stories her Uncle tells her from long ago. When they attend a powwow together she watches the dancers and singers which inspire visions of dancers in her head but they’re all dogs. The book also brings in a little bit of history by explaining the origins of the dance and how it has been misrepresented in history.
- Rabbit’s Snow Dance written by James and Joseph Bruchac and illustrated by Jeff Newman. The story is a retelling of an Iroquois folktale in a modern way. Rabbit loves winter and knows a dance that can make it snow. The other forest animals are not happy with him though as the snow begins to fall out of control but they will ultimately get their payback.
- Saltypie: A Choctaw Journey from Darkness to Light written by Tim Tingle and illustrated by Karen Clarkson. Author Tim Tingle is a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and in this book recounts the story of his family’s move to Pasadena, Texas. In a deeply personal way and through the eyes of a young boy, we see the pain families often felt during this time.
Hi! My name is Emilee Armbruster and I currently serve as a Program Improvement Engineer at DIBS. I am originally from Ohio and studied Early Childhood Education at Xavier University (Go X!). I feel passionately about educational equity as well as Cleveland sports, Xavier basketball, cute dogs, Fiona the hippo and cooking!